Album review: Paul Curreri – The Velvet Rut (Tin Angel)
What has happened to Paul Curreri? Last time I looked (at his gig at London’s Luminaire, to be precise) he was singing sharp, piquant acoustic numbers, a flag bearer for the New Americana. But on Mantra, the opening track of The Velvet Rut, he has turned all dirty Delta blues.
But by God it sounds good. Kicking off with a smokers cough and the insistent thrum of an approaching drum, the song sounds nastier than a Memphis night on bad bootleg. Then again, should I be surprised that the Charlottesville singer has that darkness inside him? He is Kelly Joe Phelps’s protégé after all.
But fans of Curreri’s more usual softer style should not be too worried. Despite the promise of something completely different in the opening track, much of The Velvet Rut builds on that for which he has a deserved reputation: accomplished musicianship (he plays all the instruments and supplies all vocals); and songwriting that pushes Americana well beyond the reach of the many bland singer-songwriters flooding the UK festivel scene at the moment.
Of the Phelps’ influenced tracks Loretta stands out thanks to Curreri’s vocal, delivered with the yearning of a lusty teenager unable to get his hands on the goods.
Teenage hormones and bluesy guitars aside, it is worth listening to The Velvet Rut for Curreri’s smart songwriting. His lyrics are feats of imagination in a music sector drowned out by the sound of insipid love songs delivered with all the originality of a Simon Cowell act.
Where else but on a Curreri album could you veer from a wonderful story about an angel climbing from a bath and causing a natural disaster as its wing hits the window (The Ugly Angel) through to Patti Smith being told to “kiss my ass and die/If you can’t make beautiful make nice” in a song about faith and friendship (Keep Your Master’s Voice In Your Mouth) and a story about a lazy dream-stealer (Fat Killer At Dawn)?
Curreri produced The Velvet Rut, and has given it an experimental, layered feel. This works best on The Wasp. Sounding like it was recorded in the bathroom, its off beat clap hands percussion would not be out of place in a Devendra Banhart set.
Why I Turned My Light Off and Freestylin’ Crost The Pond bring the album to a more conventional, intimate end, which highlights my main criticism of the album. I wanted more dirty Delta and less reflective, late night bar. The lack of it left me wondering whether the sheer shock of sparking up on such a sharply contrasting note had shaken Curreri as much as it will his fans.
Still, as criticisms go, it is a minor one, and Curreri remains one of the most innovative interesting and under-appreciated songwriters working today.